Chickens seem to be all the rage right now. With everything that is going on in the world, even basic commodities like eggs are skyrocketing in price. The result is you have everything from companies renting egg-laying birds for the summer, to hordes of people interested in exploring chicken ownership. Depending on how many eggs your family eats, you can actually make money owning chickens—and you don’t have to sign up to be a full time farmer. A few birds will only require about an hour or two’s work through the week, and set you up with a surplus of food. Here’s how to get started.
Establish your goals.
Are you looking for meat, eggs, breeding, or a little of each?
- Meat Birds are usually larger fast-growing breeds. They do lay eggs, but produce low yields.
- Egg Layers can come in all sizes, and are (obviously) high yield producers of eggs—some breeds can lay almost an egg a day in their prime. With four birds, that rate can easily get you over 1,000 eggs a year. (Of course, these birds make fine eating as well.)
- Breeding…Please don’t make me have to have “the talk” with you. (It involves mommy and daddy loving each other then a stork delivering a baby etc.) For breeding you will have to have what they call in the chicken game a Roo (Rooster). Now it’s important to know that one stud can handle 10 hens or more depending on the breed. Too many Roos and you end up with Cock fights, hurt chickens, and chaos. Sorry to disturb you with this, but roos can even actually…how do I say this…love the Hens to death.
Let’s Talk About Sex.
Now onto the next decision: Are we going for Hens, or Roosters? If the goal is eggs, the decision is made up for you. When it comes to meat, of course both sexes make delicious chicken dinners. As for breeding… local laws may effectively prohibit that. Because Roos crow to assert dominance, some areas prohibit owning one. Other common restrictions include flock limits like 10 total birds or less. So make sure to find out about your local laws and HOA restrictions before you start your poultry journey.
How fancy do you want to go?
Say you’re in this for eggs, but are you an egg producer, or are you a bespoke eggscaper? Most of us have grown up with the white eggs you find in the grocery store. Then after that you find the small section of brown eggs that most people think of as “farm eggs.” Then we get into the boutique colored eggscapes or rainbow eggs. These “rare” and highly sought-after egg layers produce eggs that can be colored from dark chocolate, blue, olive, pinks and green shades. I liked the idea of giving friends baskets of fresh eggs in all kinds of different shades knowing that is not something you can get just anywhere. (If I am going to raise chickens I want them to be interesting, dammit.)
How to Pick Up Chicks
This is going to be the tricky part and largely depend on your local area and what types of birds and eggs you are looking for. Local flea markets or trade days are likely to find you common type birds, since the special breeds are usually reserved. My experience is that online hatcheries are hit or miss, and prices can skyrocket quickly. One order we had for eight chicks that all produced different colored eggs cost us over 200.00 plus the 55.00 overnight shipping. One bad hatch and our order was canceled and rescheduled a month out. Then one day we walked onto the local Co-Op/tractor supply when we were not even looking for chicks, and they had a whole tub of Easter, white and tinted egg layers.
Building Your Flock
Chicken math time! (Yes, chicken math, it’s a thing.) At most local stores you will be required to purchase multiple chicks, in our case minimum of four. Why, you ask? Not all will survive, and the stores know this. It is part of the life cycle, and it happens, and it is best to be emotionally prepared. The number of required chicks online was eight, because in this case they’re being shipped. Whether ordering online or buying brick-and-mortar, you need to have enough that the chicks can share their body heat and increase the odds of survival.
Startup: What do you need?
- Brooder (box, play pen, tote)
- Medicated chick starter
- Heat source
- Bedding (puppy training pads, pine)
The brooder is basically a place where the chicks live for the first month or two. It is just a safe place where the chicks can run around and just learn to live. We used a 100-gallon Rubbermaid water trough. Chicks are really delicate and require a heat source, so we bought a red heat bulb and simple clamp-on light fixture to attach on one side of the trough.
You want a large enough brooder so you can set the heat in one area of your brooder. When the chicks are cold they will huddle up together under the heat source. When they are hot they will move away from the heat source. Ideally the chicks should be scattered all about, meaning that you probably have the temperature just right.
Next you need to feed and water the chicks as soon as you get them home. We started with a specific chick starter food formulated for chicks, and some electrolyte water additive. To keep the chicks clean, we decided to use puppy pee pads—chicks are messy, and it is easy to change the pads daily. A bonus is that the texture helps the chicks get their footing. A slippery surface can injure chicks that are learning how to stand, walk, and run.
Read the “baby books.”
The best advice I can give you is to read the baby books … there are loads of great published resources. It will give you a great foundation. Take the internet forums with a grain of salt. No matter the question, half the group will say you are right, the other half you are wrong. Even simple things like can I put bedding in with my new chicks? Half will tell you no because the chicks can confuse it for food. The other half say go for it.
Here’s my answer: Both are correct. For the first two days we did puppy pads only until the chicks learned the lay of the land. Then we added bedding, seems easy enough. If something does not work, adjust, and don’t be stuck on one way of doing things.
If you have ever successfully raised a dog or cat you most likely can handle chickens. The more you invest in interacting with your flock you get to see the different personalities of the birds. Want to see some action? At a couple weeks we introduced the chicks to live grasshoppers. Talk about insanity! One of the braver chicks grabbed a grass hopper and squealed in triumph hold up the prize in the air. Talk about fun!
Stay tuned—this is the first in a series of articles documenting our progress and offering tips.
James the “XDMAN” Nicholas Mr UnPewFessional Himself